Nepal under pressure to re-open Everest route after quake

The Mount Everest south base camp in Nepal is seen a day after a huge earthquake-caused avalanche killed at least 17 people, in this photo courtesy of taken on April 26, 2015 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Everest base camp was destroyed by an avalanche during the recent earthquake

In what could prove a highly controversial move, the Nepalese government has sent a team of Sherpas to Mount Everest to fix the route through the treacherous icefall above Base Camp so that climbing can resume on the mountain as soon as possible.

An avalanche triggered by last weekend's earthquake - which killed 19 climbers at Base Camp - swept away fixed ropes and ladders placed in the icefall, making it impossible for climbing teams to reach Camp One.

"Our estimate is that in a couple of days, they could fix it," said Tulsi Gautam, director of Nepal's tourism department, who believes only a couple of ladders were destroyed.

"If we can fix the route in the first week of May, it will be fairly manageable [for climbers] to complete their expeditions in the third of fourth weeks [of May]," he said.

The government is expected to make a final decision on Monday.

The window for reaching the summit of Everest closes at the end of May because of the start of the monsoon, and some climbers are already waiting at Base Camp in the hope of the route re-opening soon.

Image caption Suhail Sharma estimates most climbers stand to lose $70,000 if Mount Everest remains closed

The lure of the summit of the world's highest mountain is intense for any climber, but it also requires a big financial commitment, which is now in jeopardy for those involved in this season's expeditions.

"Yes, it is a question of money for a lot of climbers," says Suhail Sharma, who is part of an Indian team.

He had travelled all the way back down to the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, to find out what the government was doing, to ensure he and his team could complete what he described as a "spiritual journey" on Everest.

He estimated that most climbers would lose $70,000 (£46,200) or more if the mountain remained closed.

But others have decided to abandon their expeditions because of the disaster at Base Camp and also what has unfolded across the country since 25 April.

The earthquake is now known to have killed more than 7,000 people and injured more than 10,000.

Besides the damage in Kathmandu, entire villages have been destroyed in remote, mountainous areas to the west and the north, where many people are yet to receive any help.

Five Sherpas working for Guy Cotter, who was leading a commercial expedition on Everest, died in the avalanche which hit Base Camp and Mr Cotter has now called off his expedition.

"I know some teams who haven't had any direct impact [from the avalanche] probably feel that they'd like to carry on with climbing the mountain," he said.

"But with the scale of the calamity not only here, but right across Nepal, it just doesn't seem like the appropriate thing to do for me and my team."

Another climber, Adrian Hayes, a former British army officer, contacted the BBC to say he had abandoned an expedition, so he could use his skills to take part in the relief effort for earthquake victims.

He is a trained paramedic and plans to head into the remote regions where it is still proving difficult to reach those in need.

But despite the crisis, the government does seem in favour of re-opening the route up Everest, if it is safe to do so.

Nepal earthquake relief

$415 million

needed for humanitarian relief

  • 3 million people in need of food aid

  • 130,000 houses destroyed

  • 24,000 people living in makeshift camps

  • 20 teams working to reunite lost children with their families


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Nepal quake special report

It says it is under pressure from those climbers who are not prepared to abandon their attempt to reach the summit.

But financial concerns may also be a factor in the government's thinking.

Tourism is Nepal's only industry, and climbing and trekking are vital parts of it.

The quicker the situation can be normalised following the earthquake, the more the impact on the tourism industry can be minimised.

And Everest is one of the great draws for both mountaineers and trekkers.

This is also the second year in a row there has been a disaster on Everest; last year, an avalanche killed 16 Sherpas and all climbing was cancelled.

This time, the Sherpas say they are prepared to return to the mountain.

"It's up to the wishes of the clients," said Ang Tsering Sherpa, head of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.

"The Sherpas are willing to do as per the clients' wishes."

Deaths in worst-affected areas (1 May)

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